************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head II, Articles 8-9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 11, 2013
Canons, Head II, Articles 8-9
"The Gates of Hell Cannot Prevail"
A young girl once ran away from home to get married. Her father was very angry and said that he would never forgive her. She was sorry to have grieved her father and wrote him long letters begging for his forgiveness; however he took no notice. By and by, the daughter had a little son. When the boy was old enough to run about alone, she said to herself, "I will write no more letters to my father, but I will send my little son. He shall be a living letter. My father will know what I want to say to him when he sees his little grandson. He will know that I still love him and want his forgiveness." This, of course, is a parable of what God has done for us in Christ. I'm reminded of what the Apostle John writes:
So she took the little boy to his grandfather's house and sent him in alone to speak to her father. She bade him to put his arms around his grandfather's neck and kiss him. When the little fellow did this, the old man's heart melted. He sent at once for the mother and forgave her.
(1 Jn 4:10) This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.God, out of His great love, sent Christ as His living letter.
I Limited Atonement (Again)
A Who is this letter meant for? Who did Christ come for? Who did Christ die for? Who is Christ's work meant for?
Many people look at John 3:16 and say the saving work of Christ is meant for all. You know the text:
(Jn 3:16) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Anyone with loved ones whose salvation is in doubt wants to believe this. It is too horrible to contemplate anything else. Or is it? Let's think about this for a moment.
B If we say God has taken the steps to save all, how come all are not saved? If we say the death of Christ is meant to save all, how come all are not saved? The only possible answer is that some sinners will not allow God and Christ to save them.
Is this what we want to confess?
Think of what this means. If we say some sinners will not allow God and Christ to save them, then we are saying God is thwarted by sinners; actually, what we are saying is that God is not sovereign, He is not in control, He is not in charge, He is not almighty – rather, sinful man is. If we say some sinners will not allow God and Christ to save them, then we are saying that Christ's death is not sufficient to overcome some sins; actually, what we are saying is that there is something lacking in the suffering and death of Christ, it is not enough, it is in some way deficient. Is this what we want to say?
C Let's look at it from the other viewpoint, the Biblical viewpoint. God may desire the salvation of all and He commands us to proclaim the Gospel to all but the saving work of Christ is not applied to all. Rather, says the Canons, from eternity
"it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son's costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones ..."In other words, Christ's work is only applied to the elect.
Under this viewpoint God remains sovereign, in control, in charge – He cannot be thwarted by sinful men and hard hearts. Under this viewpoint the work of Christ is sufficient to save all sinners from all sin – no sin and no sinner is beyond His saving work.
D I find this to be of infinite comfort. You see, if salvation was ever up to me and the state of my heart, then I can never be sure of my salvation. Some days my heart might allow my salvation and other days my heart might resist the will of God and be beyond the work of Christ. This is too dreadful to contemplate.
I am better off with God in control than with me in control. I am better off with Christ's perfect sacrifice than with my sinful heart determining the effectiveness of His suffering and death. I am better off with a limited atonement.
With this in mind, let's take a closer look at what God does for us in Christ.
II The Comfort of a Sure Salvation
A In Article 8 the Canons tell us the sovereignty of God and the sufficiency of Christ's death means a full and complete salvation. There is no partial redemption. There is no incomplete deliverance. Listen to what the Canons say:
... it was God's will that Christ through the blood of the cross ... should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation ...; that he should grant them faith ...; that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot ...
The sovereignty of God and the sufficiency of Christ's death means the forging of a golden chain of salvation. God, in Christ, guarantees the entire salvation process, from beginning to end. When it comes to His elect, God not only redeems them but He also gives them faith, cleanses them, preserves them, and glorifies them.
This is the teaching that we find in our Scripture reading this evening:
(Rom 8:29-30) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (30) And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.The language may be different than the Canons, but the thought is the same. When it comes to His elect, God foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies – and nothing can prevent this. Again, the thought is of a golden chain of salvation.
B What do I mean by a golden chain of salvation? Think of it this way:
Someone was talking to me about their dog. He didn't think the dog's chain was big enough and strong enough. Sure enough, the dog saw a squirrel or a car or something and took off. It hit the end of the chain and kept right on going. The chain broke. The chain, it turned out, was not very secure. The dog ended up being run over because of this.God, in Christ, has forged a golden chain of salvation made up of many different links: foreknow, predestine, call, justify, faith, cleanse, preserve, and glorify. All these separate links are welded together. This is a chain that is secure. This is a chain that is strong. This is a chain that cannot be broken. When it comes to the salvation of His elect, nothing can prevent God, in Christ, from accomplishing His purposes.
Those who are part of the golden chain of salvation have nothing to fear – ever. As Paul puts it in our Scripture reading:
(Rom 8:35,38-39) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... (38) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, (39) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Their salvation is assured. Nothing can derail them from reaching their destination. Sins past, sins present, sins future cannot; temptations cannot.
Some freeways have express lanes in the center. Once you get on those lanes you have to stay on them till you reach your destination.The golden chain of salvation is like a freeway with no exit ramp. There is no getting off until you reach God's intended destination – the glory of life everlasting in the new heaven and new earth.
C I want you to notice, with me, that the surety of our salvation is Trinitarian in its design and execution. God the Father chooses to save a multitude. By His death, God the Son satisfies God's anger against the sins of those the Father has chosen. And, those whom the Father has chosen and for whom the Son has died are called by God the Holy Spirit to faith in Christ and are preserved by the Spirit until the day of redemption.
III The Comfort of Satan's Defeat
A Article 9 points out another benefit of limited atonement, of the fact that God is in charge and that Christ's sacrifice is sufficient. It speaks of the "gates of hell seeking vainly to prevail against" the accomplishment of God's purpose or plan.
What are the gates of hell? It is all that is of devilish, hellish origin. It includes the devil and his host. It includes Satan's allies: the world, the children of the devil, and even the sinful flesh of the elect. They make war against the purpose of God. In this battle they use persecution, suffering and death and destruction, fire and sword and imprisonment, false doctrine and the vain philosophy of men. They make use of the dominion of sin and the power of the flesh. They employ the temptations of the treasures and pleasures of the world. Always their purpose is to destroy the church. Always they seek to frustrate the plan of God to save the elect and to bring them to full redemption.
B From the very "beginning of the world to the present time" God has powerfully accomplished His purpose to save the elect. And, from the very beginning of the world the gates of hell have opposed that purpose.
Over and over again the gates of hell have tried to overcome the plan and purpose of God. Think of Cain's murder of Abel. Think of the sons of God marrying the daughters of men. Think of the great wickedness that existed before the flood so that only Noah and his eight were left to serve God. Think of the tower of Babel. Think of Israel as slaves in Egypt and the murder of all the newborn sons of Israel. Think of all the sin and rebellion during the forty years in the wilderness. Think of the days of the judges and the wicked kings. Think of the Babylonish captivity. Think of the devilish plan of Haman to kill all the Jews.
What happened in the Old Testament happened in the New Testament as well. Think of Herod's plan to kill the Messiah by killing all the boys of Bethlehem. Think of the temptations of Christ. Think of the betrayal by Judas and the denial by Peter and Christ's desertion by His disciples. Think of the cross. Think of the guard around the tomb.
After Pentecost the gates of hell continued their onslaught against the church and the purpose of God. Think of the persecution of the apostles and the persecution of the early church by the Roman and Jewish authorities. Think of the heresies and schisms that have torn the church apart since then.
Think back on the missionaries we have supported over the years. Remember the Suhs? Because of security and safety concerns, they were forced to leave Nigeria. Remember the Vanderwals? They always had to be extra careful as they traveled around the Honduras. Remember the Vedders? Persecution and imprisonment was a constant fact of life as they worked in Eritrea until they had to leave. A couple of years ago we were informed that the wife of Rev Green, a URC missionary in Costa Rica, was robbed at gun point. Rev Van Ee of Big Springs tells us about the ups and downs in the church he serves. All of this is an attack by the gates of hell against the church and the purpose of God.
C Satan has tried, Satan tries, and Satan will continue to try to thwart the purposes of God. And, he tries against you and me as well.
First of all, he wants to keep us from being saved by grace; he wants us to believe that we, not God, are in charge of salvation; he wants us believe in an unlimited atonement where I am free to put off until later a decision for God!
Second, he wants to keep us from growing in grace; he loves it when Christians don't hear the Word or participate in the sacraments; he loves it when Christians don't take the time to read the Bible and pray; he loves it when Christians are not part of a Bible study.
Third, he wants us to fall in disgrace; Satan is delighted when Christians commit public sins and make Christ and the church subject to public ridicule; he laughs with glee when ministers get caught committing adultery and elders are revealed as abusers; he rejoices when a church is split over issues and personalities.
All of this, my brothers and sisters, is Satan's attempt in your life and my life to thwart the purposes of God.
D Satan has tried, Satan tries, and Satan will continue to try to thwart the purposes of God. Yet, I want to tell you this evening that his opposition is in vain. It is in vain not because you and I are so strong; it is in vain not because the church is so pure; it is in vain not because Satan is so clumsy and ineffectual. It is in vain because God is sovereign and Christ's death is sufficient. The gates of hell can never prevail against God and His Christ. Think of Saul the persecutor who later became Paul the apostle. Satan tried through Saul but lost out when Jesus called and saved Paul.
Do you realize what this means? This means that every last one of God's elect will most assuredly be saved. Not one of them will perish. They will be saved because God – not man – is in charge. They will be saved because of the sufficiency of the suffering and death of Christ.
I say again what I said before: I am better off with God in control than with me in control. I am better off with Christ's perfect sacrifice than with my sinful heart determining the effectiveness of His suffering and death. I am better off with a limited atonement.
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